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More than half a dozen public bathrooms spanning the 800 to the 2800 block of the beach will be either replaced or renovated with new state-of-the-art structures, adding an aesthetic element to a set of restrooms that officials believe are currently too utilitarian. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Whether it’s washing hands or taking care of more private matters, the experience at the beach restrooms is about to become more pleasant.

More than half a dozen public facilities spanning the 800 to the 2800 block of the beach will be either replaced or renovated with new state-of-the-art structures, adding an aesthetic element to a set of restrooms that officials believe are currently too utilitarian.

The project was initiated after the California Department of Parks and Recreation was sued in a class-action lawsuit in 2005 over violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As part of a settlement agreement, City Hall decided to replace eight non-ADA compliant restroom facilities on Santa Monica State Beach, five of which sit to the south of the Santa Monica Pier, three to the north. Only one of the eight restrooms — 2500 Ocean Front Walk — will be renovated.

The City Council last week reviewed the conceptual designs for the proposed restroom facilities, which will include individual restroom stalls for both the men’s and women’s rooms that are separated by a central building spine. The restrooms will also have outdoor sinks and showers, foot washes, bike racks, surf board lean walls, drinking fountains and seating.

“These facilities are going to be more than just toilet facilities, we intend that they will be used by the public and have amenities that will relate to their various locations on the beach,” Ralph Roesling, principal of RNT Architects, said at the council meeting. “We’re very interested in trying to make a much nicer environment for people that are going to be visiting Santa Monica and visiting the beach and hopefully this will make a better impression than the existing toilet rooms.”

The facilities will be passively ventilated with a combination of natural breezes and a high ventilating screen that will be located along the central building spine.

Councilwoman Gleam Davis said during the meeting that from a safety perspective, she appreciated the separate stalls in the men’s room.

“When you have a child who is a different sex than you are and they reach an age when they are uncomfortable going into in my case the women’s room with me … you get a little nervous sending them into the men’s room area,” Davis said. “There have been some bad experiences in beach restrooms in California.

“I think the idea of individual stalls with screens where you can hear the child going in … as a parent I would find very reassuring.”

Approximately $3 million has been budgeted for the design and construction of the facilities. Construction is expected to begin after Labor Day 2010, completing no later than Memorial Day 2011.

The project has for the most part been well received by the public. During a community open house in September, more than 50 residents stopped by to review plans, commenting that they would like to see natural materials used to keep in harmony with the beach environment and shade trees planted near the seating areas.

Susan Cloke, the chair of the Recreation and Parks Commission, said she is not looking for a “concrete block” that is cold and uninviting, but rather a structure that would give visitors a sense of Santa Monica. She said that bathrooms on the beach are not just meant to be neat, clean and practical.

“You also want them to reflect character and fun and history because they are part of our way of communicating with the public and communicating with the tourists that come here,” she said during the council meeting. “(It’s) who we are as a city and what we stand for and where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

melodyh@smdp.com